Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Students and faculty engage in dialogue on building a just and equitable society.
To mark and commemorate this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Thacher community came together for an informative documentary screening; an illuminating panel discussion featuring activists, academics, and thought leaders; and breakout sessions that allowed students and faculty to thoughtfully dialogue with individual panelists in small groups.

On Saturday, January 13, students watched Ken Burn’s acclaimed documentary, The Central Park Five, which examines the story of five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted and later exonerated in the 1989 Central Park jogger case, raising important questions about race and class, the criminal justice system, legal protections for juveniles, and basic human rights.

On Sunday, students had the chance to share messages and express themselves through a group chalk art activity, hosted by Chalk4Peace, an organization founded by John Aaron CdeP 1971. 

On Tuesday, January 16, students and faculty gathered in the Milligan Center for a program titled “Responding Courageously to the Challenges of Our Time: Martin Luther King’s Vision & Millennial Activism.”

The panel was moderated by Bakari Kitwana, a journalist, activist, and political analyst, and included Yusef Salaam, an activist and exonerated member of the “Central Park Five”; Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson, a professor at UCLA who teaches and writes on race and racism and cultural history; Liz Havstad, the chief operating officer and executive director of Hip Hop Caucus, an organization that builds movements for civil rights and environmental justice, and Jasiri X, a hip hop artist and activist.

The program was a continuation of a discussion that panel moderator Bakari Kitwana organized and presented at numerous colleges and universities across the country throughout 2017.

Read senior Mary Yans interview with the panelists.

After the town-hall style panel discussion and Q&A, students, faculty, and panelists broke out into small groups for further dialogue and thoughtful discussion before regrouping for a community debrief, followed by hot cocoa and snacks on the Pergola.

“For Tuesday night’s program, we brought together frontline academics, artists, and activists to engage our community in a dialogue honoring Dr. King’s legacy,” said Matt Balano, director of diversity and inclusion and assistant dean of students. “They called all of us—but with a particular focus on our youth—to reflect and consider ways to incorporate Dr. King’s vision for a Beloved Community (a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love for one’s fellow human beings) in our social activism and in our everyday engagements.”

“I cannot articulate how inspired I was by the five panelists,” said Jose Carpio ’20. “It was amazing to hear about what they all do and see how their lives are so connected to the beliefs Dr. King had years before. In addition to their presentation and group discussion, it was very engaging that they all joined us outside to talk either in smaller groups or one-on-one to answer questions and share other ideas we might have had.”

“The program that we attended was incredibly insightful,” said William Keeling ’20. “All of the panelists were clearly experts in their field and had some pretty inspiring things to say. When I went to the breakout session with Dr. Johnson, this was even more apparent. She was so intelligent and eloquent that it was hard not to be inspired by what she said. I believe that although we had some pretty difficult conversations that night, each and every student, including myself, walked away with more knowledge of both the civil right movement in the 20th century and how we are currently facing these issues today.”

“I felt that panel was vital in discussing topics of racism, diversity, and equity; topics that are not discussed thoroughly in our everyday classrooms,” said Fatoumata Soumare ’20. “I loved the keynote speaker, Yusef Salaam, because he talked about the prison industrial complex and his experience with it. He believed that building a better nation started with fixing the broken prison system. In all, I hope that the panel serves as a step towards continuing discussions like these.”

Mr. Balano concluded: “Regardless of which side of the political aisle we find ourselves, I think most will agree that our national climate is becoming increasingly hostile and divisive. The panelists challenged us to lean into discomfort and to work towards normalizing having the difficult conversations that past generations have avoided, with a goal not of universal agreement, but rather of respect and understanding. It was a thoughtful, provocative, challenging, and enlightening evening, that left us with much to consider in our efforts to continuously strive to serve the greatest good.”
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